To help Germany to achieve its 2030 climate targets, Greenpeace Energy has made a unique offer to close several open pit lignite mines and power plants in order to create a space for renewable energy. L. Michael Buchsbaum reveals the details.
In late November, Greenpeace Energy, a German utility with over 130,000 customers and is financially and legally independent of Greenpeace itself, announced they were offering to purchase and gradually take over the lignite open pit mines and power plants of RWE AG in the Rheinische Revier, the lignite mining region west of Cologne, with the intent of shutting them down by 2025.
Combined, these power plants and mines comprise the worst CO2 polluting power sources in Europe. In their place, the clean energy firm would construct a series of wind and solar systems with a total combined output of 8.2 gigawatts on or near the former mining areas.
“What we propose is a huge opportunity for the Rheinische Revier and brings us a big step forward in climate protection,” said Sönke Tangermann, CEO at Greenpeace Energy. “Our concept is financially fair for all sides and designed so that redundancies can be avoided.”
While releasing RWE AG from any long term legal, environmental and financial obligations towards the clean up and rehabilitation of the area, Greenpeace Energy would implement this expansion within the framework of a citizen energy concept, in which citizens can participate privately or indirectly via energy companies. Municipal corporations and private companies would also be able to get financially involved.
In concrete terms, Greenpeace Energy proposes to decommission the Hambach opencast mine and the six oldest and least efficient power plant units by 2020, the nearby Inden mine in 2022 along with six further power plant units, and in 2025 close the Garzweiler Mine along with the last three lignite burning units.
In total, the price amounts to about 384 million euros,” said Fabian Huneke of the Analysis Institute Energy Brainpool, which has calculated the cost-effectiveness of the project. Greenpeace recognizes that initially their plan hangs on the profits that could be realized with the lignite power plants on the electricity market until they, because of rising CO2 prices in the near term, would become unprofitable.
While some criticize Greenpeace’s offer as unrealistic, the alternative—business as usual—includes RWE belching vast quantities of greenhouse gasses into the atompshere while ripping up the rest of the Hambach Forest and several neighboring towns and villages. Afterwards, their 40-year plan includes creating a pair of vast lakes filled with billions of gallons of water piped in from the Rhine River (which will be problematic considering the droughts coming due to climate change). In that context, which plan makes more sense?
To usher in their plan, Greenpeace Energy has established a number of new companies for the upcoming tasks including an operator cooperation implementing the Citizens Energy Concept. This firm will construct the wind power and photovoltaic systems with an output of 3.8 and 4.4 gigawatts, respectively, on all suitable former open-cast mines. The green power plants will generate more than 15 terawatt hours of electricity by 2030–a sizeable amount, but in fairness, only around a quarter of what the Rhenish lignite currently supplies.
Though obviously less than current production, power generation from the lignite plants is already set to decline steadily through the early 2030s, falling below the projected level of the citizen energy plants Greenpeace is planning by 2040.
Construction of the entire replacement renewable system by Greenpeace Energy would cost around seven billion Euros and constitute the largest renewable energy project in Europe.
With so much work to be done, the company would contract all employees leaving the RWE lignite division through an employment company. These workers would then be involved in power plant decommissioning and renaturation of the open pit mines. Other workers would be retrained for new careers in renewable energy and other industries.
The proposed employment company would seek to receive funds to finance the structural change in the region from the public structural fund already being proposed by Germany’s Coal Commission. “The project can act as an initial spark for the transformation of this traditional energy region into an energy transition model region,” said Prof. Dr. med. Bernd Hirschl from the Institute for Ecological Economic Research (IÖW).
Vital to the health of the planet, implementing Greenpeace Energy’s plan would result in roughly half a billion fewer tons of CO2 compared to RWE’s current planning, as calculated by the Forum Ökologische-Soziale Marktwirtschaft (FÖS). This would save social costs resulting from climate damage amounting to around 60 billion euros. As early as 2020, emissions will fall by around 13 million tonnes of CO2. By 2030, 338 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved.
In other words, this plan would help put Germany back on track to meeting its 2030 climate goals—currently very much in danger.
Unsurprisingly RWE rejected the offer almost immediately. “You cannot really take the Greenpeace offer seriously,” RWE said in an emailed statement to the Montel news organzation, arguing the proposal was detrimental to the interest of the firm, as well as regional and federal German authorities, which would be asked to finance part of this deal.
As the take-over plan continues to gain media attention, another arm of Greenpeace in coalition with several farming groups and other organizations, has filed suit against the German government for failing to maintain its obligations and simply “giving up” on trying to achieve cuts in greenhouse gas emissions set out under the country’s own climate target, as well as under European law.
While pledged to take action to slash CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, earlier this year the government admitted that it was now expecting to achieve only 32%. This shortfall of 8 percentage points is equivalent to about 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—indeed Greenpeace’s plan of shutting down the nation’s filthiest lignite plants could help Germany back towards that initial course.